McMillan’s Codex #6 By C.T. McMillan
It is not often cult authors like H.P. Lovecraft receive such a following in today’s world. His stories of cosmic horror and beings so incomprehensible they drive men insane have captivated young and old readers a like. Over the years entertainment media has used Lovecraft as an inspiration with varying degrees of success. The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, Prometheus, and even Pacific Rim are good movie examples, while videogames struggle to embrace Lovecraft beyond clever references. Game director Hidetaka Miyazaki, however, took the challenge and made Bloodborne.
Miyazaki is known for the Souls series, action RPGs renowned for their difficulty. Each game is a spiritual successor to the other, and Bloodborne is no different. Even the animations and story telling are the same, with the exception of its combat. Bloodborne is a fast character action game with an emphasis on offense. The player is encouraged to attack due to the lack of a defensive option and you can only regain health by attacking. Along with the fast combat are aspects of role playing that allow you to level up and build a character suited to your play style by gaining points called blood echoes.
The world and its mechanics are designed around a combination of cosmic and body horror. As per Lovecraft, the world slowly goes insane and undergoes a transformation. A staple of body horror is what you cannot see is affecting you on the inside. In the story, a plague is turning people into monsters and forces unseen twist flesh into grotesque abominations. Mosquito-men hover on buzzing wings, human enemies suddenly sprout snakes from their heads, and animated piles of corpses drip and ooze grime as they crawl. It is implied the player is infected with the plague and sets out on a journey to find a cure.
Bloodborne can be enjoyed on aesthetics alone with its mix of gothic and Victorian styled architecture. Pointed spires atop cathedral-esque buildings reach into the perpetually night sky, streets and alleys fold in on each other as they descend deeper towards the depths, and statues line walkways and bridges. As the game progresses the aesthetic becomes as morphed and grotesque as the enemies. Statues turn into monstrous beings and on the walls of buildings effigies of people stare out in frozen horror as if absorbed by the masonry. The game’s tone is also reflective of the style. After men of science tamper with powers unknown, madness and plague consume the world on an apocalyptic scale. As a Hunter, it is your job to right the wrongs and expunge the monsters to bring light to the darkness.
The religion of Bloodborne is very much inspired by the Cthulhu mythos. The gods, known as Great Ones, are inter-dimensional aliens whose influence is inescapable and omniscient. The Healing Church, the in-game ecclesia, worships the Great Ones and conducts experiments on ordinary people to be closer to them. The town in which they are located, Central Yharnam, is a parallel to Innsmouth, rife with crazed fanatics. In their pursuit of seeking their gods’ wisdom, disciples of the Church are driven mad and it is believed they might have caused the plague. The Hunters are a response to the Church and it is alleged they were created by the Great Ones to put a stop to their activities.
Some of the bosses bear a direct resemblance to Lovecraft’s infamous creatures. Ebrietas is similar to Yog-Sothoth, a mass of tentacles with wings and a bristled mouth that shows a portal to the cosmos. Throughout the game the protagonist gains an item called Madman’s Knowledge that when consumed, reveals giant multi-armed Amygdala monsters clinging to the game’s buildings. Amygdala has a lot in common with Cthulhu with its beard of tentacles on a face of many eyes. Mergo’s Wet Nurse is less obvious about its inspiration, wearing cloth over its body and arms. Its face is uncovered but invisible, creating a sense it is too otherworldly to comprehend.
Bloodborne is a game Lovecraft fans will enjoy. Though no directly based on his work, it was certainly inspired. From the fully realized world of death and decay, to the slow encroaching madness that seeks to consume it, never has cosmic horror been faithfully applied in a videogame. Hidetaka Miyazaki knew better than anyone how to do Lovecraft right and exceeded all expectations. If you can adapt to the difficulty, it is worth getting used to dying few dozen times.